Los Gatos Vice Mayor Steve Rice is facing harsh criticism from some community members and fellow council members upset that he's openly stated he intends to bypass Councilwoman Barbara Spector for the body's second-in-command position when he becomes the town's nominal head next Monday.
On Nov. 21, the Los Gatos Town Council, under the leadership of current Los Gatos Mayor Joe Pirzynski, will consider Rice's sure nomination for the mayor's job and his vice mayoral nomination, which some speculate will not be Spector based on statements Rice has made to Spector herself and the
Community advocate Jonathan Knowles wrote to this publication this week and said: "I agree that to bypass Barbara Spector is unconscionable. I believe others in our community who share this perspective should contact Council member Steve Rice and share their view."
For critics of Rice's possible nomination of Diane McNutt as the vice mayor, the bothersome point is that she was selected mayor in 2009 and the appointment guarantees she'll be mayor in 2013 and then she'll pick Pirzynski as vice mayor, who will then serve as mayor again in 2014.
"They'll just be rotating among the three of them and I don't really believe that's what the voters want. The voters who voted for Barbara and voted for me want to see us in there," said junior . "We'll get skipped for no good reason ... when they just all had their turns."
Whatever happens Monday evening remains to be seen, but count on the majority vote of the normally well-behaved council to decide who will be mayor and vice mayor.
Other town government observers indicate Spector, a respected attorney who works for the San Jose law firm of Hoge Fenton Jones & Appel, deserves the nomination and the vice mayor's job. She served for eight years on the Los Gatos Planning Commission and she's serving her second four-year term as a council member. Spector plans to run again for another four-year term, which will end up being a total of 20 years of public service. Same goes for Pirzynski who will end up serving 20 years between the Planning Commission and the Council if he runs again.
The Council has no term limits.
According to town policy, serving as mayor and vice mayor is considered a privilege, not a right.
The mayor and vice mayor serve at the pleasure of the Council and may be replaced at any time by a majority vote, the policy states. At the time of selection, "any member of the Council may be nominated to serve as mayor or vice mayor."
The policy further states that "individuals who are elected to serve as mayor and vice mayor are chosen because of their ability to fulfill the roles and responsibilities of these positions, establish a collegial working relationship with the Council, an ultimately, serve the community."
Spector herself conceded that, technically, any Council member could nominate anyone for mayor and vice mayor. However, she said, in the history of Los Gatos, never have two council members been passed over for vice mayor.
She further explained that traditionally the current mayor nominates the current vice mayor to be mayor. One of the other four Council members seconds the nomination and then they vote. Three votes are needed to become mayor. In the past, all five Council members say yes and continue with the agenda.
"In this case, not only was I passed over, I would have been the next one who would have been up and Steve Leonardis would have been next. This will be the first time that that has happened," Spector noted.
In the recent past, the only two council members passed over for vice mayor were officials involved in wrongdoing against the council, she said. "That's not me and it's not Steven Leonardis," Spector said. "As I told Steve Rice, I was disappointed that he was not going to nominate me because I think it's an honor ... I thought it was unfortunate because it does create bad feelings and bad feelings make it that much harder to work together."
Much to Do About a Ceremonial Position
No special privileges come with the vice mayor's position. All five council members have the same voting power. But ceremonially speaking, or the unspoken agreement, it's Spector's turn to serve as vice mayor, Leonardis said.
Pirzynski said Rice’s critics are misunderstanding the policy. "It's something that may be confusing to some people, but from my perspective ... this is the process ... up until Monday the decision is open."
The mayor said the vice mayoral selection has never received so much attention in the past. "There's an assumption that the sitting vice mayor will be the most likely candidate to be nominated for mayor, that's why we're having the discussion about Steve Rice, but from the perspective of who might be the vice mayor, I don't recall any time in my 10 years on the council that that was a significant issue. People are always interested in the mayor. The mayor will take the center seat and conduct the council meetings and represent the community for the next year.
"That, to me, if where the focus needs to be," Pirzynski said. "I'm a little upset that this has taken this public turn ... it's something that will work itself out through the process of deliberations and recommendations and eventual council decisions."
Is the Council Split?
"No," said Leonardis, recounting how the body has only recently voted 3-2 on important issues such as the and the . On those issues, Spector and Leonardis cast dissenting votes, while Pirzynski, Rice and McNutt voted in favor.
Spector agreed with Leonardis saying that more than 90 percent of the time, council decisions are unanimous.
She said she didn't know if Rice's expected decision Monday to bypass her would divide the council. "I don't know what's going to happen should it all occur," she said.
Pirzynski said the council has always worked well together regardless of who was serving as mayor or vice mayor.
For his part, Rice, who's been in the hot seat since the controversy started, said: "I don't have anything to say at this point."
He added: "There are a lot of people in town that have different perspectives."